York, England Attractions and Leaning Buildings!

One of the many attractions in York, England: the medieval town.
One of the many attractions in York, England: the medieval town.

What to Do in York

York, England is one of the oldest medieval towns that is still in operation. Because of this, York provides visitors with an intricate variety of both historical and modern attractions, including the Roman Wall still encompassing most of the town of York, the Shambles street with its comically leaning buildings from the fifteenth century, Yorkminster Abbey, the National Rail Museum, quaint shops and tea houses and icecream places, and my favorite: the little-known treasure of St. Mary's Abbey ruins.

St. Mary's Abbey Ruins, York (photos copyright Jane Grey)
St. Mary's Abbey Ruins, York (photos copyright Jane Grey)
St. Mary's Abbey, York
St. Mary's Abbey, York

St. Mary's Abbey (Church), York

Walking behind the Yorkshire Museum to see if there was a place we could sit down to eat our sandwiches, my companions and I were surprised by the sudden ragged ruins of an old cathedral, standing in gaping outline against the dark forest behind it like a lace handkerchief left hanging on a tree during a rainstorm. St. Mary's Abbey was an unexpected treat.

According to the small sign, almost a footnote in comparison to the many questions we had, St. Mary's Church had been a monastic powerhouse during the middle ages, and one of the largest landholders in Yorkshire. Monks at St. Mary's Abbey were shrewd businessmen who bought, sold, and traded a variety of commodities all over the medieval England, and the Abbey of St. Mary was the wealthiest Benedictine establishment in northern England. When King Henry VIII departed from the church of Rome so that he could legally divorce his wife, he also commanded that cathedrals, monasteries, and convents be torn down to show defiance to the Catholic church (the "Dissolution of Monasteries"). St. Mary's Abbey was one of the first to be destroyed. St. Mary's Abbey also frequents the early medieval ballads of Robin Hood, in which the Abbot of St. Mary's sought Robin Hood's downfall.

Behind St. Mary's Abbey, York

Old cemetery behind St. Mary's Abbey
Old cemetery behind St. Mary's Abbey
Gargoyle on York Minster
Gargoyle on York Minster
Yorkminster Cathedral
Yorkminster Cathedral
Yorkminster Cathedral
Yorkminster Cathedral

Yorkminster Cathedral

One of the biggest attractions of the city of York is the beautiful York Minster Cathedral, Northern Europe's largest Gothic Cathedral. Rivaling the Westminster Abbey in size and grandeur, the average tourist will find that there is a feast for the eye everywhere he turns, even if he doesn't decide to pay the entrance fee (£14 last time I was there). Take a walk around this Cathedral of York and you will get a great view of comically grimacing gargoyles perched like bats on the Beast's castle in an old fairy tale.

The first church on this site was a wooden chapel built solely for the christening of Edwin of Northumbria, an Anglo Saxon king. Immediately after his christening, Edwin required the wooden building to be torn down and a stone one built in its place. This did not happen in his lifetime, however, and another man finished the project as Edwin was fighting and dying in battle.

Later, the Norman invasion burnt and destroyed much of the stone church, and the Normans built another Minster in its place --this time even bigger and more beautiful than the first. The building you see now was built onto the Norman church over a period of 200 years, begun in the 1200s by Walter Gray and carried on after his death. York Minster has survived numerous arsons, wars, and even a fire caused by lightning in 1984.

The "Shambles" in York

Shambles is not a butcher street anymore!
Shambles is not a butcher street anymore!
Leaning buildings in Shambles of York
Leaning buildings in Shambles of York

The Shambles in York

A diagonal cross-street leading to the York Minster Cathedral, Shambles represents a slice of history more than just a street on a map. The Shambles is a line of crooked houses leaning out from both sides of the cobblestone street, their white or brown plaster walls supported by black timber and crossbeams that are aged but not decrepit, raising eyebrows and shifting over the street below in an ancient ugliness that is not frightening. Somehow these hunchback houses have remained standing since the 1400s.

The street's name, "Shambles," came from the Flemish, "Fleshammels," which meant "flesh shelves." For many years, the Shambles was a street of butcher's blocks and butcher's hooks, and you can imagine the mess and smell created when animals' blood and guts were thrown into the center gutter of the street to slowly drain. Our term "shambles," ("I have never seen this room so messy-- it's in shambles!") comes from the butchers' messes on "Flesh Shelves" Street.

Visit York's Shambles now and you'll find sweets and treats shops, souvenirs and gifts, a bakery and a bookstore, fragrant potted flowers spilling from the upstairs windows, and all buildings with the original meat-flesh shelves inside the windows and the large iron butcher's hooks on the overhang.

York City Walls

By the time we got to the tall stone wall that circles York, the rain had gotten to us. It wasn't a downpour, but it was enough to make the stone stairs leading to the walkway on the wall slippery with dark mildew. Much of the wall had not changed since the dark ages, and the little improvements that had been added only enhanced its appearance. We walked on ledge in the wall for its entire length, imagining ourselves sentries as we poked an eye out the narrow arrow slits that revealed the countryside around York, veiled like a medieval bride by the sheer mist that steadily fell. The watchtowers built at intervals on the wall had circular stone staircases and gave a wider view of the city below us, but we liked the parts best where the modern world was blocked by low hills or secondary stone walls and we could imagine we had just stepped over the ripple in time.

One of the sentry towers on the York City wall near the river.
One of the sentry towers on the York City wall near the river.

© 2010 Ann Leavitt

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Comments 19 comments

guest 6 years ago

nic pics!


UlrikeGrace profile image

UlrikeGrace 6 years ago from Canada

Yes...wonderful pictures Jane...but also wonderful writing. I love your use of the descriptive. This has made for very enjoyable reading!It is my dream that one day I will get to England and see all the sites I have been reading about for years. But until then, thank you for taking me there.

UlrikeGrace


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States

Very interesting hub and I would love to visit there. I really enjoyed your pictures. Thanks for a good hub.


Rose West profile image

Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan

Thank you for the wonderful journey through York! Yet again, you've combined great writing with beautiful pictures. I never knew where "shambles" came from - interesting. I'm glad they don't use that gutter anymore.


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Thank you, Ulrike! Your complement warmed my heart. I'm glad you found my writing enjoyable and descriptive-- that was what I was setting out to achieve, so it is very fulfilling and gratifying to hear you say that! You are very sweet and I am honored for you to read my work.

Jane


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Pamela, I hope you can visit there some time! You will find that the pictures don't really do it justice, though they try! There were so many photos that I could not include: more of the river and the bridge over it, more of the wall and the sentry posts-- it was a hard decision what to include, York is such a picturesque town. Thank you for your kind complement! You always have something kind and sweet to say; it is a pleasure to have you stop by.


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Rose,

I was shocked too, when I found out why it was called "Shambles"! I guess it just shows that our romantic and idyllic perspective of history makes things glow more than it really did. I think the smell would have been more than most of us could handle! Now there are so many flowers and ice-cream-licking tourists that it's hard to imagine the place being disgusting!


SidneyMorgan profile image

SidneyMorgan 6 years ago from Australia

Looks like a great place to visit, with allot of history. I especially like the pictures and story about Shambles, great hub


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 6 years ago from The English Midlands

Yes, York is a beautiful city!

The ruins! The minster! Such a lot to see. Jorvik Viking museum is worth a visit, too.


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Sidney, It was a place I wished I had more time in! The term "Shambles" applies to several butcher's streets in several towns and countries, not just York. I'm figuring out it was a term as common as "bakery" or "library".


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Trish, I haven't heard of the Jorvik Viking museum. Is it in York?


ladyjane1 profile image

ladyjane1 6 years ago from Texas

I would love to there it looks so beautiful and the pictures were great.


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 6 years ago from The English Midlands

Hi Jane :)

Jorvik was the Viking name for York, and they have made a mock-up of life in a small area of the town, as it then was.

http://www.jorvik-viking-centre.co.uk/


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

That sounds charming, Trish! Some how I missed that on my last visit. Thanks for the info!


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

I love this Hub! The photographs are extraordinary. I especially enjoyed seeing the magnificent Cathedral and the fascinating Shambles. Thank you for this pleasure!


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Thank you, James! I'm honored to have you stop by and leave your comment! Yes, photographs can sometimes speak more clearly than words-- especially when architecture is on display.


Duchess OBlunt 6 years ago

Very informative hub Jane Grey. It sounds like just the type of place I'd visit if I ever got the opportunity. I love your photography. Great work


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

I hope you do get to visit it sometime, Duchess OBlunt; it is exactly the kind of place I think you would love! There are many photo opportunities, especially because so much of what is old and lovely is still there, unmarred by signs and modern improvements. Thank you for your complements!


knowyourtour profile image

knowyourtour 12 months ago from Bangladesh

Your nicely researched article is really useful. The article will be of great use for people willing to visit London. Even people not willing to visit England may also be benefited by reading it. They can know a lot; the use of images describes it more vividly. Thanks for such a great article.

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